Helping young people with brain injury

Sinéad Stack, Senior Occupational Therapist with Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, tells us about the roll-out of the new Step Ahead vocational assessment programme in Cork for young people
Helping young people with brain injury
Acquired Brain Injury Ireland launched a new Step Ahead initiative in Cork and Dublin to help young people return to work or education after Brain Injury. Charity ambassador Diana Bunici (centre) joined Sinead Stack (left), Senior Occupational Therapist from Step Ahead Cork, and brain injury survivor Niamh Cahill from Mountrath, Laois.

THIS month, thousands of 18-year-olds sat their Leaving Cert, focused on the points for the course they want.

At the same time, many young people in their 20s are finding their feet in their first or second job, building a new set of work friends and enjoying the independence that comes with earning an income.

But imagine if all of that was taken away from you or from your son or daughter, suddenly and without warning? Imagine if one day you were doing all your usual things and the next, you were struck by a trauma that changes you completely and you feel you will never be the same?

Our new Step Ahead vocational assessment programme in Cork is a dedicated service in Ireland to help young people after brain injury return to work and education. Because we believe in their potential and in their right to rebuild a life for themselves.

When a brain injury happens, it is devastating, both for the individual and for their families. Life is put on hold. Nobody ever thinks a brain injury will happen to them. Yet in Ireland as many as 19,000 people acquire brain injuries every year from causes like strokes, road traffic accidents, falls, brain tumours and assaults, to name a few.

Depending on the severity of the injury and what part of the brain is affected, many individuals require intense rehabilitation initially from services like the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) to relearn basic things they used to do without thinking — like talking, walking, swallowing.

After such intense rehabilitation to restore basic functions, ideally a brain injury survivor is referred to a service like ours, at Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, where they will undergo assessment to receive personalised brain injury rehabilitation, with more focus on cognitive, emotional and behavioural needs. In our service, every brain injury survivor receives their own individual rehabilitation plan to work towards specific goals.

Unfortunately, with a severe lack of rehabilitation services in Ireland, too many brain injury survivors are unable to access the service they need. Too often young people with brain injury find themselves wrongly placed in nursing homes designed for the elderly with little or no rehabilitation that could help them return to their own homes.

But for those who do manage to access our community rehabilitation services, they benefit from a person-centred approach that looks at the whole person. No two people with the same brain injury will respond the same way. Understanding the whole person is essential to help them reach their goals as they learn new strategies to compensate for deficits.

They and their families have gone through the worst and come out the other side and at Acquired Brain Injury Ireland — we believe they deserve every possible service to give them the best life possible. That’s why our new Step Ahead programme in Cork is vital to help more young people in Munster after brain injury (18 to 29 years) return to work or education.

After a brain injury, a person’s brain has to work harder and that can cause fatigue, memory problems, frustration and stress. Our Step Ahead service can assess where people are at and help them with practical strategies so they can manage their fatigue and cope with stresses that might occur when returning to work or education. What makes Step Ahead unique is the ongoing support we give from brain injury experts. We go beyond traditional job placement services which may stop when the new job starts. Our support continues to allow an individual settle back into a job where they are comfortable using strategies, they’ve learned to cope with the day to day stresses in their role.

We also engage with employers to help with their understanding of the brain injury, so they know how to support someone. This is crucial. Reasonable accommodations from employers can make all the difference such as allowing someone to return part-time and gradually build back up to a five-day week. With the right supports, we’ve seen young people return to college, learn to manage their fatigue and go on to complete their diplomas, degrees and masters. We’ve also worked with people returning to employment and helped them overcome the fear of forgetting people’s names because of memory problems. We also work with employers with regard to specific supports for individuals such as taking regular breaks to help with concentration difficulties and fatigue.

We strongly urge anyone interested in taking part in our Step Ahead programme to get in touch and we can advise you on the referral process which must be made by a healthcare professional.

The STEP AHEAD programme is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020. Acquired Brain Injury Ireland has two centres in Cork and Dublin for people aged 18-29 years living with acquired brain injury.

While grant funding has made Step Ahead possible, this funding will run out in less than two years. Step Ahead is vital to give young brain injury survivors a new chance at life and we desperately need it to be sustained and to go beyond the current age parameters. Our goal is to see more brain injury survivors of working age return to employment and education.

For more information on Step Ahead see or get in touch with Sinéad Stack from Acquired Brain Injury Ireland on 086-6034633.

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland is the country’s leading provider of community rehabilitation for those of working age (18-65 years) living with and recovering from an acquired brain injury.

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